Saturday, December 1, 2007

Capitals Unable to Overcome Bad Luck; Worse Refs

Capitals 3, Hurricanes 4

I wrote on Friday that the Capitals had all too often been the victims of bad luck this year. It appears that's still the case.

When an opposing player misses the net, but hits someone else on his team in chest with the puck, which then falls at his feet for a tap in goal, you're dealing with some crap luck.

When you have an important late-period goal washed out because it failed to beat the buzzer by two tenths of a second, you're dealing with some crap luck.

When the other team scores from behind the goal line, by throwing the puck off your netminder and your best player's stick, you're dealing with some crap luck.

When the other team slashes your second-best offensive player in the offensive zone badly enough that he has to be helped off the ice with 15 seconds left and the result is a faceoff down near your goal and no penalty call you're dealing with some crap luck (and crap referees). Oh, by the way, Donald, next time the Caps play the 'Canes, take the two minute minor and ten minute misconduct and beat down Dennis Seidenberg.

When you lose a powerplay because your player (Mike Green) high-sticks the opposition (Chad LaRose after being hooked and is sent to the box you're dealing with some crap luck (and crap referees). That play should have resulted in a 5-on-3 for the Capitals since LaRose hooked Green and touched the puck before Green high-sticked LaRose. Instead 4-on-4 and an abbreviated 'Canes powerplay. Crap luck.

I have no idea what the Capitals have done to anger the hockey gods. Maybe it's that the Capitals don't have enough Canadians on the team (eight by my count), maybe the hockey gods are Japanese and hate their homeland's reputation being sullied by "Nanking", or perhaps it's just that Steve Stamkos is destined to be a Capital.

The Capitals still need to go on a run to get themselves back into the playoff picture and I still think they can do it, and will look for them to do so after Boudreau gets his five days off to work with the team without the pressures of a game. Picking up two against an inferior Panthers team tomorrow night is essential though.

I'm wondering if it would be worth it to start a section called "Laughlin's Laffers" where each game I'd chronicle the most absurd thing said by Craig Laughlin in the previous game's telecast. If I had such a section, tonight's would have been "I thought fans in Greensville were excited for hockey!" when he and Joe B. were discussing the move of the Hartford Whalers to Carolina. First of all, it's Greensboro, not Greensville. Secondly, the 'Canes played there for two seasons, in which they drew 9,086 and 8,188 fans per game.

Quick Hits

  • After Ovechkin's early goal Laughlin noted "that's the way you quiet a crowd". Good point. I'm sure those 628 people in their seats at the game's start were making a hell of a lot of noise and really intimating the Capitals. Or maybe it was that the Calgary-esque "Sea of Red" from all the empty seats around the arena.
  • What's the deal with the Hurricanes sounding the horn when an opposing team has a goal waived off?
  • Nice first period for Laing. He skated 5:02, and had three blocked shots. Apparently he told Joe B. before the game all he wanted to do was be in the right position and grind it out. I believe that's called "knowing your role".
  • From his gait I thought it looked obvious that Alexander Semin was in pain when he was skating. From the rest of his play it's obvious his hands aren't as deft as he's used to and he's still not used to playing at NHL game pace. That said I thought he was still quite effective at getting open in the offensive zone and making the Carolina defense either make plays or take penalties.
  • Comcast briefly showed Donald Brashear running around the ice in his spandex shorts/jock and a windbreaker and, believe it or, it indicated to me part of the reason he's not a great hockey player: his legs didn't look particularly strong. If you notice, a lot of elite players in the NHL don't have massive upper bodies, but have really strong legs (Ovechkin is one of them). Makes sense given that the most important part of any players game is skating ability.
  • Did you see Kolzig and LaRose nod to each other they were okay after their collision on the penalty shot and LaRose give Kolzig a little tap on the pads? It's stuff like that that makes me think hockey is the classiest sport at the pro level. Think about it - you never see NFL linemen ask the quarterback is he's okay after a sack (they're generally too busy prancing around).
  • It wouldn't shock me to see Ovechkin one day pull a Bill Gramatica and hurt himself celebrating.
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Friday, November 30, 2007

Are the Capitals Cursed?

Per Tarik at Caps Insider, the Capitals are again facing injuries problems. Alexander Semin's ankle is hurt again (or is it 'still'?), Chris Clark is day-to-day with a groin injury and it looks like Boyd Gordon is likely going to miss a significant portion of time. To fill the roster spot the Capitals have recalled Quintin Laing from Hershey. The lines for tonight's game in Carolina will reportedly look like:


Which is actually not too bad, all things considered.

But back to the issue at hand - are the Capitals cursed? To anyone who has watched the team this year it seems like a legitimate question, possibly even a rhetorical one. Ever since those first three games the Capitals have been victim to bad calls (especially at inopportune times), bad bounces and, most of all, injury woes, seeing Clark, Semin and Tom Poti all miss time concurrently.

Clark missed games from October 27th to November 10th; Poti missed games from October 26th to November 5th; hence to two of them were both out five games, which included two one-goal losses and one two-goal loss. In the game only Poti missed, the Capitals also lost by one goal; the the game only Clark missed the Capitals lost another one goal game. In addition Alexander Semin was either hurt or ineffective due to his injury for each game in that stretch.

From October 26th to November 10th, the Capitals lost four one goal games, and one two goal game. You have to believe that having at least two of the three of Clark, Poti and Semin available and helthy for those games would have let the Capitals pull out at least four, if not more, points (they did manage one, losing in overtime in Atlanta). If the Capitals had managed a decent showing in those five games, picking up five points, they'd be sitting at 22 right now, tired for 12th in the Conference and only four out of the last playoff spot. Not overwhelming, but a much more feasible take than what they do currently have in front of them.

There there is of course the issue of the Capitals simply not being able to catch a break which, obviously, there is much less analytical evidence for.

Partially as a result of the late-October through early-November stretch the Capitals have lost their confidence. For the most part I don't think that they've lost confidence in their own ability or of the abilities of their teammates but they do seem to be convinced that the odds are stacked against them every night; that one bad turnover, one bad bounce, one referee's mistakes is going to bury the team and that as a result they have to play near perfectly to overcome the fact that fortune is not smiling on them. You can see it in the team's body language after the first goal of every game. If the Caps get it they look enthused, encouraged, like they're thinking "This could be our night, but even if it's not we've got a head start". If the opposition scores first the Caps body language is "Damn it, now we're in a hole and it's going to take a miracle for us to get out of it the way things are going".

So, how does the team get out of this mindset and out of the string of bad luck? Well the most common answer would probably be: win. There is of course a certain validity to that. Winning will give the team confidence and hopefully build momentum. But in my opinion that is not enough. The Capitals needs to win a couple games that they don't deserve to win, or at least win some close games handily because they got some good luck, in order to boost the team confidence that what is beyond their control isn't going to bury them on a regular basis. If the Caps start believing that, they will be able to weather adversity better and should start pulling off wins in game they fall behind or are outplayed early.

Eventually the bounces and the 50/50 calls are going to start going the Capitals way and if this team is playing reasonably well when they do they will be able to go on a run and make up significant ground in the standings. What the team needs to be able to do is hold its head above water in the standings (so they aren't in an impossible hole to get themselves out of) and keep playing well on the ice (so they can take advantage of the good luck and wins games when it finally comes around).


Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Week 13: Redskins vs.Bills

It's tough to know how tragedy will affect a team. The Redskins' situation is as unique as Sean Taylor was, and his memory as a great player in this league should be remembered far longer and with far more importance than a victory on Sunday against the Bills.

Under stress and after tragedy, many people do find solace and comfort in "business as usual." The routine is a reassuring reminder that our lives can go on while we mourn. Coming together as a team can also provide strength, empathy and compassion when faced with such circumstances, erasing any feeling of loneliness or confusion. However, It is still very difficult to face such realities when a tragic situation defies our perception of reality, which this sudden and unthinkable death has done. The sports community has seen great teams and memorable seasons derailed at the lost of a loved one, but we have also seen spectacular games rallied behind a "greater cause."

I would like to think that a man's legacy is not appropriate to rally behind. I would like to think that remembrance does not come with the price tag of a win and that a loss on Sunday would not diminish how much these men cared about Sean Taylor. They are deeply saddened by his passing and while returning to the field is the right move, if they are too conflicted or too burdened at this point to play at the caliber the NFL desires and lose, it in no way should be looked upon as a failure to honor #21.

The Bills are a mediocre team. They have some weapons on offense and defense but nothing that has been consistent or spectacular. They have a quarterback crisis and a talented but young running back. The Redskins should win this game and should win it by at least two scores.
Who knows how the Redskins will play, but I would also hope that they will allow themselves this short amount of time on Sunday to feel joy. It does not bring doubt on your suffering to remember how precious life is.

Redskins 27, Bills 16

- The Hokie
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Caps Fall to Cats at the End of 11 Player Shootout

Capitals 1, Panthers 2 (SO)

Earlier this week I said that the Caps should look to pick up four points in their games
two games against Florida and one against Carolina before heading into a lengthy break in which they could fully absorb Boudreau's new system. After picking up a point in the shootout loss last night the team can still do so, but they missed their best opportunity for two in their home game against a mediocre (but streaking) Florida team.

Florida ought to consider itself lucky to have picked up the two points. I'll give them credit enough to deserve one, but the Capitals should have had 1:59 of 5-on-3 to close out the overtime session. They refs managed to catch the Cullimore trip but they blew what should have been an easy roughing or interference call as Nylander was hit from behind and knocked down in front of the Panthers net. Maybe it was one of those situations where the refs were being lenient because another penalty had already been called, I don't know. But an infraction as blatant as that one needs to be picked up no matter what. As it was the Caps had seven overtime shots; with a 5-on-3 and nothing to lose you'd have to like their chances of picking up a goal.

The Cats also lucked out when Clark and Semin became unavailable for the shootout. Semin would have shot no matter what; Clark may not have, but you'd have to think he'd go before Pothier, Poti or Steckel.

In non game-related thoughts I'd have to say that I'm pretty sure Craig Laughlin is crazy. He was saying in the game tonight (and has said in the past) that it's an advantage for a shooter to be the opposite handedness of a goalie, i.e. that a left-handed shooter will have an advantage over goalie who catches with his right hand. I'm usually ready to agree to disagree and accept that other people's opinions can differ from mine, but let me tell you here - Laughlin is wrong.

As someone who played goalie for years let me tell you that it's easier to stop a puck with your glove have. That hand is lighter, there's no stick to make it awkward, you can catch with it and it's easier to make the play with your palm facing outwards that in towards you. As a shooter it's easier to not have to come across your body; for a right handed shooter (like Ovechkin or Semin) to shoot high-glove on a left-catching goalie (like Kolzig). Thus if the blocker is worn on the opposite hand of the handedness of the shooter, it's an advantage to the shooter. Come on Laughlin, why do you think the majority of NHL players shoot lefty? Why do you think Canadian coaches and parents tech their kids to shoot left, resulting in ridiculously high levels of left-handed golf club sales north of the border?

Quick Hits

  • As much as I love Donald Brashear, the Caps may need to look for another enforcer in the offseason. Brash obviously has trouble keeping up with the pace in the NHL at his age and has taken a lot of bad penalties this year.
  • The Capitals honored Sean Taylor before the game.
  • I hear Dave Andreychuk used to do a drill where he would dump a bunch of pucks in and around the crease and practice snapping them high into the net as quickly as he could. Someone should show Viktor Kozlov this drill.
  • Boyd Gordon's shootout goal beautiful. How beautiful? I got so excited I jumped up, pumped my first, and wrenched my back.
  • The ice at the Verizon Center seems to be getting worse every game. Can it get any worse than last night's game? I doubt it. I mean, how can you make worse ice than when it doesn't even freeze?
  • Of course the terrible ice can work to your advantage - Nylander nearly won the game with his bouncing dump-in on Vokoun. Just think of it as a home rink advantage.

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Washington's Texas Two-Step Continues in San Antonio

On Monday the Wizards proved they can still play with the big boys - even without their superstar - when they soundly defeated Dallas 110-98 on their home floor. Tonight they take aim at an even tougher foe, the reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs. At 12-3, the Spurs lead the Western Conference and enter tonight's contest with a perfect 8-0 record at AT&T Center. It doesn't help that the Wiz haven't won in San Antonio since Dec. 11, 1999, but hey, they hadn't won in Dallas in their previous six trips ... so why not end another streak?
The Wiz face a Spurs team coming off an unexpected blowout loss at Sacramento (5-9) in which free agent cast-off Beno Udrih - per Gregg Popovich's pre-game prediction - torched his former team for a career-high 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The champs had been riding a five-game winning streak and they'll certainly be looking to get back on track against a short-handed Washington squad.

Key Match-Up

  • Antonio Daniels/DeShawn Stevenson v. Tony Parker - The key to the Kings' victory in Sacramento was their defense of Eva Longoria's Parisian Prince. Udrih not only lit it up on the offensive end, but he matched it with his lock-down D on Parker. He held the Spurs' point guard to 12 points on 5-of-13 shooting, and forced Parker into four turnovers. While Daniels should be able to exploit Parker with his strength and ability to take it to the rim, Stevenson will likely be charged with the task of defending Parker on the other end. He'll need to limit the Frenchman's penetration, forcing him to give the ball up early to his teammates on the perimeter. Speaking of the perimeter, the Wiz finally caught a break against Dallas after two straight games of unheard of opponent three-point percentages. We know what Big Shot Bob and Manu Ginobli can do from outside, but if the Wiz can force the Spurs into contested jump shots and limit their layups, they could make a game out it.


  • Caron Butler has been tremendous for Washington all season. He leads the team in scoring (23.3 ppg), steals (2.21), field goal percentage (52.8), three-point field goal percentage (46.7), and ranks third in rebounding (7.2) and assists (3.2). He'll need his to put up his usual stellar numbers and then some if the Wizards want to pull out another road win. With Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche inside, the Wiz have little hope of slowing down The Big Fundamental, but winning the battle of the boards is essential.

  • If the Wiz play a perfect game, get big production from their starters and a scoring boost from the bench and keep Ginobli and Parker off the free throw line, they've got a chance. That's why I'm taking the Spurs by 9.

-- The Tar Heel

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

We Will Miss You Sean Taylor

You were one of the best in the game and we were all proud to say you were a part of our team and our life for four years.
Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Captain Caron Sparks Wizards Win in Dallas

Heading into Monday night's game against the Mavericks, the Wizards (7-7) had lost five straight in Big D and two straight against the mediocre-at-best Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. They were without Gilbert Arenas (who was forced to undergo surgery on his knee and will be out of action for another three months), Oleksiy Pecherov (who is out for at least another week with a right ankle injury) and Etan Thomas who remains out indefinitely following oepn heart surgery. Add to that laundry list of concerns the fact that the Mavs (9-5) were the best team in basketball in the regular season a year ago, and after surprising consecutive losses at Indiana and Milwaukee, they were itching to get back on track.
Enter Caron Butler. The Wizards sixth year forward had a break-out year last season, making his first All-Star team and contributing as one-third of the league's highest scoring trio. Thus far, his encore has been even more impressive. Butler - chosen by Coach Eddie Jordan to be a co-captain along with Antawn Jamison - has lived up to his billing, excelling when the Wizards started the season and kicking it up a notch in Agent Zero's absence.
Last night, Caron put his team on his back and carried them to a 110-98 victory in Dallas. He played just under 44 minutes, made 13-of-17 from the field, hit all four of his free throws and set a new career high from long-range, going 5-5. Butler's final trey of the night came on the Wizards final posession and sent a loud statement to the rest of the league that the Wiz, even without Gil, aren't going to go quietly. With a four-second shot clock and game clock differential, Butler dribbled at the top of the key until there were just four seconds left to shoot. He then took three dribbles to the center of the floor and fired up a triple that barely touched the net on the way down.
It was the perfect ending to a night in which Butler dropped in 35 and added eight boards, two assists and two steals to lead the Wiz over a Western Conference title contender. Jamison chipped in 27, Antonio Daniels had a season-high 16 and six assists and DeShawn Stevenson had 13 for the Wizards, who shot over 50 percent from the floor.
After getting torched by outside shooting in back-to-back losses, the Wizards allowed the Mavs to shoot just 3-of-21 from deep. Rather than great defense on the perimeter, the lackluster shooting performance was more luck than anything else, but after the Warriors and Grizz combined to shoot 29-for-60 from three against the Wiz, they deserved a night like this.
The most inspiring aspect of the victory was the Wizards strong play on both ends through four quarters. They led by two at the half and came out firing in the third, stretching the lead to 13 after outscoring the Mavs 38-27 in the period. And even when the Dallas bench-warmers started chipping away at the double-digit lead late in the fourth, Antawn, Caron and the rest of the team closed out the game in impressive fashion.

Unsung Heroes of the Night

  • Nick Young - The Wizards' top draft choice displayed his explosive scoring ability yet again, taking it to the rim on three straight possessions following a mini-run by Dallas for two buckets and a miss that Brendan Haywood tipped in on the follow. Young blew by Brendon Bass and the much larger DeSagana Diop, showing his quickness and strength when the Wizards needed a spirt. Young finished with seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and three boards. This guy has really stepped up since his landlord (Gil) went down, and he keeps getting better each game.
  • Antonio Daniels - With Arenas out, the savvy veteran from Bowling Green has been called to lead this team, push the tempo and get the ball in the hands of it's scorers. AD excelled in this role late last season with Gilbert and Caron out and he has continued to show why he's one of the best clutch guards in the league by stepping up huge this season. He had a season-high 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting and made 4-of-5 from the charity stripe. AD had several of his patented one-handed and-one plays last night, two following big buckets on the other end by Dallas that could have shifted momentum. Daniels is not a shut-down perimeter defender - see Jose Barea's 15-point fourth quarter outburst during which he shot 6-of-8 and abused Daniels off the dribble - but he sees the floor on the offensive end, knows when to push it and when to slow things down and gets the ball to Jamison and Butler. Oh yeah, and he still has one of the quickest first steps in the game.


  • "Never underestimate our will. Guys were aggressive and stayed positive. It's not going to be one individual (replacing Arenas). We've just got to continue to keep this thing going.'' - - Caron Butler

-- The Tar Heel

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sean Taylor Gets Shot

Multiple sources are reporting that Taylor was found by police in his Miami home suffering from gun shot wounds. He was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital where paramedics said he was shot in the groin and other sources in Florida have reported that he suffered at least two gun shot wounds.

Family members have asked that no more information be released while Taylor is still in critical condition and the Redskins have only stated that he is undergoing treatment and police are investigating.

Redskins' Statement

ESPN's article -- updated at 10:57 a.m.

These are the facts of the case and not a lot has come out yet, but our support is for a full recovery and the clowns here also hope his family finds relief soon.

Click Here For Expanded Analysis

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Week 12: Redskins vs. Bucs

The Redskins face another good team in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but this is again a winnable game if the Skins play the way they are capable of. The return of Santana Moss, who looks to be in better condition than he has in weeks, is a good thing but the loss of fullback Mike Sellers will hurt the Skins' running game. The Skins will look to exploit the Bucs' 18th ranked rushing defense and their undersized defensive line, but without a legitimate fullback the Skins' formations could struggle to pick up yardage. Campbell will also need to exploit the Bucs' cover 2 zone scheme with short to mid range passes and screens. Campbell has done a better job over the past two games but sometimes looses sight of tight end Chris Cooley. Cooley's size and speed can be an asset against the Buccaneer linebackers and should be targeted at least 10 times on Sunday.

Defensively, the Redskins need to do a much better job of containment and coverage. Joey Galloway presents the same problems the Cowboys exploited last week. Sean Taylor is still out of the game and cornerbacks Springs and Smoot need to step up and disrupt Galloway's fly routes. If they let him release into the secondary without contact, his speed and vertical jumping ability will dictate the play. Jeff Garcia is good enough to get Galloway the ball and smart enough to pick apart the Skin's secondary. Garcia doesn't throw a lot of INTs and generally protects the football so one forced fumble or interception could determine the outcome of the game.

The Redskins need to do the little things this week against a very comparable but beatable team. They need to convert in the redzone, minimize penalties on the road and get back to playing smash mouth defense. It's been a dismal stretch of games since the Patriot blowout but the defense has never recovered and with Sean Taylor still out, and the rest of the secondary playing very uninspiring football, I still don't see the Skins pulling out a win. With the offense moving in such a positive direction it is disappointing that the defense can't seem to slow teams down.

Redskins 23, Buccaneers 31

Click Here For Expanded Analysis